A mere month ago, it looked like The Mortal Instruments was going to be the next big thing, a popular YA book series making the leap to big-screen franchise. But the flagship entry in the film series tanked, its author jumped ship, and MI looked like yet another book series tossed onto the would-be Harry Potter scrap heap. Last week came news that the first sequel — which was, incredibly, already in pre-production — has been “pushed back.” Producers Constantin Film aren’t yet pulling the plug officially, but it sure as hell looks like this flick’s on life support. Meanwhile, another, higher-profile sequel, the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, also saw its production delayed and release date pushed back at least a year. This one has a greater chance of still happening — but if it joins City of Bones in development hell, they’ll not be the first promised sequels that never came off.
Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League
There’s nothing like a closing-credit announcement to clearly and confidently proclaim that there will, in fact, be a sequel to the film you’ve just seen. The Bond movies did it; Superman did it (although its “Next Year: Superman II” announcement was two years off). And in 1984, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension did it, kicking off the end credits with instructions to “Watch out for the next Buckaroo Banzai adventure, Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League.” Trouble was, nobody saw the first film; it was buried by the likes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, and Ghostbusters. But its subsequent cult success on VHS and DVD makes this one of the few sequels on this list that is occasionally still floated.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Continues
The makers of 1985’s Remo Williams did the confident credit people one better: they tacked the phrase The Adventure Begins onto their title, ensuring the moviegoing public that this would be the first of many, many Remo Williams adventures that they would enjoy for years to come, á la James Bond or, at least, Matt Helm. “Orion has been blunt about its intentions for Remo,” wrote Jack Matthews in the Los Angeles Times upon its release. “The studio, run by the same people who launched James Bond at United Artists, set out to create a red, white and blue-collar Bond, a new American hero who might be trotted out every other year or so to deliver some predictable box-office punch.” They even hired Guy Hamilton, who directed Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Live and Let Die, to helm the film. And there was certainly no shortage of material to draw from: the character appeared in dozens of pulp paperbacks. Alas, Remo opened in fourth place, badly beaten by the new-style action movie heroics of Schwarzenegger’s Commando, and Remo’s film adventures began and ended it the same movie.
Paramount Pictures already made one ill-advised decision when they released Airplane II: The Sequel, a thoroughly laugh-free follow-up to the funniest movie ever made; original writer/directors Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker refused to participate, so Paramount hired Grease 2 scribe Ken Finkleman to both write and make his directorial debut. He proved no more adept at continuing this series than that one, but he was certainly optimistic; the end credits conclude with a promise for Airplane III, interrupted by William Shatner’s character objecting, “That’s exactly what they’ll be expecting us to do!” But no one who saw Airplane II expected (or particularly wanted) Airplane III, and when star Robert Hays passed, the project went away with him.
Dick Tracy II
Arriving the summer after the marketing/moviegoing blitzkrieg that was the Burton Batman, Disney very carefully attempted to position Warren Beatty’s adaptation of Chester Gould’s comic strip as the heir apparent: logo-dominant teaser campaign, giant saturation marketing, multiple soundtracks, the works. But the films were clearly different beasts; Tracy was a far less ubiquitous cultural property, and Beatty (who also directed) painted a far sunnier, PG-rated world for his hero. It did decent box office, but not Batman numbers, so Disney passed on a quick sequel — which is fortunate, since Warren Beatty’s never been one to make films quickly. Since he owned the rights to the character himself, he was able to hang onto them indefinitely, prompting a lengthy legal battle between the actor/director and Tribune Media Services, who claim their original agreement would allow them to reclaim the rights if the character went dormant under Beatty. He has continued to insist (as recently as 2011) that he’s developing a sequel — but this may just be hot air to keep the rights.
And speaking of messy lawsuits, there is the matter of Clive Cussler and the moving pictures. Back in 2001, Crusader Entertainment bought the rights to Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books, envisioning an Indiana Jones-style franchise that would not only thrill movie fans, but also enjoy the built-in audience of Cussler’s readers. The first book to be adapted was the 11th in the series, 1992’s Sahara; Matthew McConaughey was cast in the role of Pitt, with Steve Zahn and Penelope Cruz in supporting roles. The legal troubles started even before the film’s April 1995 release. In February of that year, Cussler sued producer Philip Anschultz for not properly consulting him on the script, and a series of suits and counter-suits followed, with the producers accusing Cussler of torpedoing the film’s release and misrepresenting the size of his audience, while the author claimed that the film’s ultimate box office failure damaged the brand and hurt his book sales. The court ruled against Cussler, awarding Anschultz $5 million and denying Cussler’s claim for an $8.5 million payment for a sequel that was, clearly, never ever going to happen.
Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires
Who knows how serious writer/director Don Coscarelli was when he ended his 2002 film Bubba Ho-Tep with the Bond-style credit “Elvis returns in Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires.” On one hand, it sounds like a joke. On the other, Bubba Ho-Tep tells the story of an elderly Elvis (who faked his own death) and a black JFK fighting an Egyptian mummy in a retirement home, so who knows what’s a joke? The point is, Bubba’s fervent cult audience has been waiting over a decade now for that sequel, but even with the promised participation of Paul Giamatti (as Colonel Tom Parker, of course), it still hasn’t happened.
You’d be forgiven for not spending much of your life wondering why there was never a sequel to Making the Grade, the utterly forgettable 1984 collegiate comedy starring Judd Nelson, Dana Olsen, and a young Andrew Dice Clay. But it, too, ends with the promise of more shenanigans from its incorrigible leads: “Palmer and Eddie will be back in Tourista, Coming soon.” Cannon, the Chuck Norris/Charles Bronson-leaning company that released Making the Grade, was a bit of a sequel factory in the mid-‘80s, so one can perhaps pardon their enthusiasm, but even that company couldn’t translate the film’s seventh-place opening and $4.5 million gross into a call from the masses for Tourista.
Masters of the Universe II
And Cannon strikes again. Their 1987 adaptation of the popular toy line and cartoon was intended to kick-start a high-profile franchise for the company; they even nabbed good ol’ respectable Frank Langella to play Skeletor (alongside Dolph Lundgren’s He-Man and Courtney Cox as a curious teenager swept along for the “adventure”). The film climaxes with He-Man triumphant over Skeletor, sending the villain to his presumed death in a deep moat — but after the end credits roll, Skeletor raises his head from the muck and announces, “I will be back!” Come to find out, he wouldn’t; by the time of Masters’ release, the toys and cartoon had peaked in popularity, and the film’s bargain-basement production values didn’t help much for word of mouth. But Cannon still wanted to do a sequel — this time at a fraction of the original’s $22 million cost, and shot simultaneously with their long-delayed Spider-Man adaptation — but they couldn’t come to terms with Mattel to extend licensing rights. Instead, the sets and costumes intended for those films were used for the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Cyborg.
In contemplating what the hell happened to the once-funny Martin Lawrence, enough indignities cannot be slung at Black Knight, his astonishingly simple-minded and unfunny 2001 riff on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. You see, he’s not really a knight, ’cause he’s Martin Lawrence, and he’s black, so Black Knight, and COMEDY IS HARD. At any rate, the film ends (and there is much cheering across the land) with a set-up for a sequel: Lawrence’s character takes another theme-park tumble, similar to the one that sent him on this wacky adventure in the first place, and he lands in an ancient Roman arena, surrounded by tigers. Can you imagine the hijinks that would’ve ensued? Thankfully, all you can do is imagine them: Even the Mensa members who’d embraced Big Momma’s House knew a stinker when they saw one, and the $50 million Black Knight stalled at $33 million.
History of the World Part II
It must be noted that, particularly in comedy films, these promised sequels are often merely just another joke. Dan Aykroyd’s 1983 pimp comedy Doctor Detroit closed with the promise of Doctor Detroit II: The Wrath of Mom (a play on the recently released Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and a high-larious bit of wordplay that should give you an idea of the top-shelf comedy to be found in Doctor Detroit), for example, and Mel Brooks’s 1981 sketch comedy patchwork History of the World Part I ends with an extended trailer for the surely-in-jest History of the World Part II, including such segments as a Viking funeral, Hitler on Ice, and a sci-fi parody called Jews in Space. Though he never made HotW Part II, his next directorial effort, 1987’s Spaceballs, was basically a feature-length version of Jews in Space.